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NFL Week 13 Expert Best Bets: Two Strong AFC North Plays on the Board

Pittsburgh is a 3.5-point home favorite for the third time this season. In the first two instances, the Steelers won both games by an average margin of 27.5 points.
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This week's picks are all Sunday games, including the Chargers-Steelers Sunday nighter that could help shape playoff seeding in the AFC.

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans (-5)

Sun. 12/2, 1:00 p.m. ET

Pick: Browns +5

Not that it was much of a surprise to anyone, but the Browns have been a completely new team since ridding themselves of Hue Jackson. Cleveland was overmatched in its first game without Jackson against the Chiefs, but has now won two consecutive games by double digits after dominating Atlanta and Cincinnati in back-to-back weeks. The difference has been stark on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Browns are 27th in the NFL on the season in yards per play (5.2), but 10th among any NFL team over its last three games (6.4). Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has been forthright in expressing his enthusiasm for Jackson's dismissal, and his play reflects that: In his last two games combined, Mayfield completed 78.3% of his passes for 10.3 yards per attempt and seven total touchdowns. Those stats look like they were pulled from his Oklahoma days.

After taking its lumps against the unstoppable Chiefs, the Browns defense showed that it, too, has made strides. Cleveland limited the Falcons and Bengals to 36 combined points, and forced four turnovers between the two contests. Getting a good number of points against a Houston team that will be playing on a short week after playing a division rival on Monday Night Football, the Browns look like a smart investment this weekend. — Sam Chase

New York Jets at Tennessee Titans (-9.5)

Sun. 12/2, 4:05 p.m.

Pick: Jets +9.5

No matter who is under center for either of these teams, this simply feels like too many points for Tennessee to be laying after playing on Monday Night Football. The Jets clearly aren’t loaded with talent, but New York is capable of playing teams close—especially one that plays the type of style that the Titans do. Despite the fact that Tennessee offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur has been touted as one of the best offensive minds in the league, the Titans have a bottom-10 scoring offense this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean LaFleur's playcalling is to blame, but this team isn’t talented enough to just hang a ton of points on their opponents. New York also happens to have won and covered in two straight against Tennessee, and the Jets are 7-3 straight up and 8-2 against the spread when facing the Titans since the start of the 1998 season. — Zachary Cohen

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San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (-10)

Sun. 12/2, 4:25 p.m.

Pick: Seahawks -10

Three of the 49ers’ last six games have been in primetime—such is life when Jimmy Garoppolo is your Week 1 starting quarterback and is subsequently lost for the season. To San Francisco’s credit, it has done reasonably well in those nationally televised games, losing by just three at Green Bay (with C.J. Beathard taking snaps) and handily beating Oakland (with Nick Mullens). But it’s the team’s recent Sunday afternoon games—the games you probably didn’t see—that give a more accurate reflection of this team: a blowout loss at home to the Rams, a road loss to woeful Arizona and an 18-point road defeat to aimless Tampa Bay. And let’s not forget its home loss to the Giants on Monday Night Football.

Even a 10-point spread gives the 49ers too much credit, particularly in Seattle, where San Francisco is 1-6 against the spread in its last seven games. The Seahawks’ home-field advantage may not be the lock it once was, but Pete Carroll’s squad—fresh off a road win over Carolina—is becoming the proverbial team no one wants to play. Russell Wilson looks like a sleeper MVP candidate, and with a top-ranked running game to match, the Seahawks are just starting to peak. The 49ers, meanwhile, have been playing above their heads. — Ed McGrogan

Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)

Sun. 12/2, 8:20 p.m.

Pick: Steelers -3.5

A proper summation of the Chargers’ 2018 season to this point would be that the team has lost to all of the teams to which it should’ve lost while beating most of the teams it should have beaten: Los Angeles has suffered double-digit defeats in the only two games the team has played against teams that would be in the playoffs if the regular season were to end today. Meanwhile, all but one of the Chargers’ six ATS victories this season have come against teams that are on pace to end 2018 with six or fewer victories.

NFL home favorites coming off a four-game stretch during which they won three games are 25-4-1 against the spread since 2009 when facing an opponent that comes in having won eight or more of its previous 10 games, with the visiting team having been outscored by an average margin of more than 11 points over those 30 games. The Steelers are 8-1-1 against the spread under head coach Mike Tomlin when coming off a game in which the team gained at least 500 yards of total offense, and Pittsburgh is 7-3 against the spread under Tomlin when coming off a game with a turnover margin of worse than minus-3. This marks the third time since the start of October that the Steelers have been favored at home by 3.5 points—Pittsburgh won the previous two games by 24 and 31 points, respectively, over Atlanta and Carolina. The final margin won’t be nearly as lopsided here, but there’s reason to suspect that the Steelers will prevail by at least twice as many points as this relatively modest spread. — Scott Gramling